Child Care, Pensions, and a Task Force on School Boards Stand Out
The Ontario government’s first budget, released April 11, 2019, demonstrates that the province is listening to parents and to a wide variety of education partners and stakeholders.
Budget themes included improving outcomes, efficiency, accountability, choice; and reducing regulatory burden. These showed in at least two ways that will directly impact the independent school sector. One involves child care provision and the other non-unionized multi-employer pension plans.
Child Care Funding for Independent Schools
In addition to a new child care tax credit for parents, “Ontario will commit up to $1.0 billion over the next five years to create up to 30,000 child care spaces in schools, including approximately 10,000 spaces in new schools. These school-based child care settings will provide safe learning environments for children and offer them the opportunity to grow in a familiar environment.” (p. 99)
I was assured by two key policy persons, in both Ministry of Finance and Education, that program eligibility for the $1 billion for 30,000 child care spaces in schools extends to both public and independent schools. Why? “the government is empowering parents to choose the kind of child care that is best for their kids because they [parents] know best” (p. 100).
Non-Unionized Multi-Employer Pensions
On pensions, the multi-employer type that many independent Christian schools use, the news was also very good. The budget document quotes an endorsement by the “Canadian Christian School Pension Plan” which states: “we are very supportive of the government moving forward with changes that ensure target benefit plans can be accessed by a broad range of workplaces” (p. 236).
What’s this all about? Well, “the government intends to move forward with a targeted benefit framework which would allow more multi-employer pension plans, including those in the non-unionized not-for-profit sector to participate in the framework. As a first step, legislative changes are being proposed which, if passed, would expand the eligibility criteria for the target benefit framework to include non-unionized multi-employer pension plans”. Furthermore, “the government will continue to work with stakeholders as it develops further elements of the target benefit framework, including the funding framework. The introduction of this expanded framework paves the way for increased pension coverage as more Ontario workplaces will be able to provide employees with defined benefit-like pensions at a more predictable cost for employers” (p. 236).
Task Force on School Boards
Another hopeful sign for our sector is the announcement of a task force on school boards which will “involve looking at all aspects of the education system, including school board operations while respecting the four publicly-funded education systems in Ontario” (p. 132). This task force is more expansive that the title suggests because it will consider all aspects of the education system. Again, promising news for our sector.
Physical Well-being, Math Curriculum, Parents’ Bill of Rights, and EQAO
With respect to education specifically, there were a few potentially good signals as well [emphasis added]:
- The government, in promoting physical activity and well-being will invest a half million over three years to increase opportunities for students to participate in physical activities, such as cricket, at school. This funding would provide seed funding to school boards and third-party organizations to promote cricket as an opportunity to meet the diverse needs and interests of students.
- Developing a parents’ bill of rights, the first of its kind in Canada, will ensure parents can play an active role in the education system.
- Curriculum reform and revision will include improving math achievement, restoring proven methods of teaching to ensure Ontario students have the skills they need to succeed. A new Grades 1 to 12 mathematics curriculum will be phased in over four years and will include more fundamental math concepts and skills. In-service teachers will be funded to take additional qualifications courses in math and new teachers seeking certification will pass math content knowledge test.
- Government will work with the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) to implement a better approach to standardized testing.
And other good news? The language throughout the 343-page budget set a tone that was hard to miss. Statements, like the following, signal an understanding of small and medium-sized, local, and community-based enterprises. Statements, that taken together, signal potentially positive directions to come include [again, emphasis added]:
- “modernizing the education system”,
- “more choice for hard-working parents”,
- “removing restrictions on independent child care providers”,
- “all families of children and youth under the age of 18 with a written diagnosis of autism from a qualified professional will now be eligible for a Childhood Budget”,
- “strengthening and formalizing Ontario’s technical education pathways”,
- “programs that encourage the people of Ontario to enter the skilled trades…and enact reforms to increase access to apprenticeship opportunities”,
- “standing up for small and medium sized enterprises is a key priority for the government”,
- “increase non-profit and private-sector involvement and implement an outcomes-based funding methodology that better matches unemployed or underemployed people with available jobs”,
- “ensuring that the needs, interests and strengths of all students are fulfilled to successfully prepare them for graduation, community and beyond”, and
- “government will improve accountability and make efficient and effective use of taxpayers’ dollars”.
Still a Long Way to Go
So, good news that non-government schools—schools like the ones that join Edvance—can access government funding for child care. and positive changes to non-unionized multi-employer pension plans. And a task force that will consider all aspects of the education system are on the way. These, along with some positive, in-the-classroom initiatives and a document littered with promising language leave us hopeful.
Independent schools have been shut out and ignored by government for a long time. We have a very long way to go just to catch up to the rest of the large provinces in our country, and to many of the modern school systems across the world which recognize through real support, the right of parents to have their children educated in line with their deepest religious, philosophical or pedagogical convictions.
Yes, a long way to go, but this budget included some positive signals.